Staunton, August 14 – Increasing inter-ethnic violence in the Russian armed forces has prompted Moscow to take the unusual step of disciplining and even dismissing some officers in a unit where such clashes occurred in early July, a measure the defense ministry was forced to acknowledge after videos of the clashes surfaced on the web earlier this week.
On July 4-5, a conflict between Daghestani and ethnic Russian soldiers took place in the fourth Kantemirov Tank Brigade, which is based on the Naro-Foma district of Moscow oblast. Available videos suggest that as many as 70 soldiers were involved, although officials put that number at only 20 (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1488176).
There were reports about this at the time, although in both cases, prosecutors denied they reflected ethnic tensions. But the authorities moved slowly until videos of the clashes appeared on the web on August 10th. (For both video and still pictures, which make it clear that this clash was an ethnic one, see ari.ru/news/3533/ and censor.net.ua/go/offer/ResourceID/168184.html).
In the first two days after the videos were posted, “Svobodnaya pressa” reports today, they attracted 60,000 views, a number that is certainly much larger now, especially given that these pictures and videos have been put up on other sites and described by some Moscow newspapers in detail (svpressa.ru/accidents/article/29009/).
Coincidentally or as a result, the defense ministry said on its website that the chief of staff of the brigade, the deputy commander for educational work and another six officers had been disciplined and another two officers had been removed for their failures as commanders before and at the time of the incident (www.mk.ru/incident/article/2010/08/14/522982-tankovyiy-garnizon-ustroil-mezhetnicheskoe-poboische.html).
The videos of the clashes are not pretty, and they have offended not only Russian nationalists who see these clashes, in which guns were fired, as evidence of dangerous behavior by Muslims from the North Caucasus as well as others but also by others simply concerned about the integrity of the Russian military.
One internal troops officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told “Svobodnaya pressa” that what had happened in the Kantemirov brigade was a shame and an outrage. “Such things in the army in general must not be,” he said, “adding that he “was in shock when he saw these pictures.”
One could hardly call what one sees in them “an army,” he continued. And he said the officers were responsible “beyond any doubt.” They are responsible “for all the soldiers and for all that takes place in [their] units.” But as these pictures show, “many officers often simply spit on their responsibilities and push off everything onto the soldiers of the sergeants.”
“And we are then surprised,” he continued, that there are such occurrences in the military.”
Asked what he would do if he were in command, the officer said that “whoever took part in the conflict should be sent to other units in groups of no more than three, and the officers who directly commanded [at the time of these clashes] should be driven out of the army” because they are clearly unfit.
And the officer told “Svobodnaya pressa” that it was no surprise that some of those involved in the fighting had shouted “Allah Akbar” given that “on wide side were fighting representatives of Daghestan. And then, as is well-known, are Muslims.” Whether that constitutes religious extremism or who used guns in these clashes needs to be investigated.
Because of the videos online, it is likely that this case will attract far more attention from Russians than others have in the past, and that attention in turn may force the powers that be in Moscow to address some of the problems that have led to such clashes rather than continuing to claim that there is no “dedovshchina” any more or any ethnic clashes in the Russian army.